I keep saying I don’t like fantasy fiction, but I keep reading it and finding books in the genre that I love.
One of those books is Rosanne A. Brown’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. I couldn’t put this one down!
Think Disney’s Aladdin mixed Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, with a sprinkle of real-life concerns young people have (anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.), and a dash of something unique and magical and you’ve got ASOWAR, as Brown refers to it on Twitter. (Follow her! She is not only a fantastic fantasy writer, but she’s hilarious).
The second book in the series, A Psalm of Storms and Silence, just came out back in November, and I cannot wait to read it!
Refugee, Malik, plans to begin a new life with his sisters in the capital, Ziran. Malik brings with him crushing anxiety, the symptom of his life as a refugee, and the loss of his parents.
“One of the worst parts of the panic attacks was the physical fatigue after, the way the energy drained from his limbs as though he’d run a marathon.”Brown 226
An evil spirit burdens him with the task of killing Ziran’s Princess Karina. And Malik has to do it to ensure his youngest sister’s safety, Nadia.
There, the sultana reigns supreme in the absence of her late husband. Her daughter, the same Princess Karina, the target of evil forces, is destined to take her place.
However, Karina is a free spirit. She is a talented storyteller who often disguises herself to escape to the local tavern to display her skills.
“a sharp pull in her gut tugged her back toward home. Despite her efforts to fight it, her sense of duty was annoyingly strong.”Brown 23
“The story was her tapestry, and each word added a new thread to the image. When this griot spoke, it was almost as if magic had truly existed, curling through the centuries to gather in their outstretched hands.”Brown 36
While in disguise, she runs smack into Malik. Without knowing each other’s background, they immediately feel drawn to one another. Despite plans for Karina to marry the son of a prominent family, she can’t help the niggling feeling that she has more in common with Malik.
“‘The only person I’m interested in marrying is the one who can catch me the moon with their bare hands.’”Brown 76
Not realizing that his quarry is before him, Malik feels bedazzled by the witty, strong, and intelligent girl.
“his heart raced whenever he thought of the epic love the old stories spoke of. Love so strong people would cross oceans and face down gods just for the chance of it — that was what Malik wanted. But he was too anxious, too poor, too strange to ever have something like that, so wanting it would have to be enough.”Brown 205
But, the revelation of her identity dashes his hopes, and he swears he will do what he must to keep his sisters safe from harm.
“‘Anything worth obtaining is worth sacrificing for.’”Brown 21
“Surely Princess Karina was there right now doing whatever princesses did while other people suffered.”Brown 92
To get close to the royals, Malik enters the Solstasia Festival contest, turning his world upside down, and testing him in ways he never thought possible for a boy from a war-torn country.
“A day ago, he had been just another Eshran refugee, hopeless and forgotten by the world. Now he had thousands of people looking to him to be the herald of a new era.”Brown 115
Things go further awry when the evil spirit murders the sultana, pushing up the timeline of Karina’s coronation. There is even more pressure to marry, so the royal line continues. However, Karina would rather kill than give up her family’s power.
She decides to offer herself to whoever wins the Solsasia Festival contest, but there is a catch; she enters the contest herself. If she wins, she reigns alone.
“Anyone who tried to take this city away from her would soon discover that the Kestrel’s daughter had talons of her own.”Brown 249
Despite her attraction to Malik, she plots to kill all the other contestants to reign Ziran in peace. But, as she learns more and more about the political intrigue and awakened evils wreaking havoc in her city, she finds she must ally herself with unlikely friends, Malik among them.
“This was what having friends was like.”Brown 280
Amongst all of this, Brown carves out space for her characters to grapple with issues that young adults face today. Karina is no different than the young person mourning the loss of a loved one to a virus or police brutality. Malik’s coping with anxiety might also be the countless American teenagers learning to manage their anxious feelings in the wake of a global pandemic.
“‘Do you know what it’s like to be scared of everything, every second of every day?”Brown 311
The fantastical elements of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin will capture your imagination, but it’s the characters and their ways of surviving adversity that capture our interest and our emotions.
Instead of shopping Amazon, go to your local bookstore or Bookshop.org to find A Song of Wraiths and Ruin as well as the sequel, A Psalm of Storms and Silence! You can make a huge difference shopping local and independent.
Trigger Warnings: animal death; anxiety; emotional abuse; fantasy violence; fire; mild self-harm ideation; murder; parent death; panic attacks; physical abuse; war crimes